Chinese Get a Sip of American Tea

XIAMEN, China

A love of tea leads to curiosity about its many variations. At the Xiamen Tea Fair, one of the world’s largest tea events, Dan Robertson, one of the founders of the International Tea Cuppers Club (ITCC) shared a selection with attendees that included Mississippi Green from the Great Mississippi Tea Co.

Attendees sample Mississippi green tea from the from the Great Mississippi Tea Co. in Brookhaven, Miss. Photo by Dan Bolton.

While tongue-tied trying to pronounce the garden’s name, participants eagerly sipped the early-stage offering. Robertson, who speaks fluent Chinese, explained that owner Jason McDonald has yet to settle on the cultivar best acclimated to the humid southern U.S. That is why the tea is made from more than a dozen types of tea plants. This gives it a flavor that can either be viewed as complex or confusing. Samplers took the tea in stride and voiced their encouragement for the 14-acre garden located in Brookhaven, Miss. The tea is not yet available commercially.

Since 2011 the ITCC has hosted cup warmings and related events that introduce tea drinkers to the great diversity of global tea. This is the fourth time Robertson has hosted a cup warming for tea fair attendees. On the menu was a Darjeeling black tea from India, a white jade from China, a chai from Russia, a Dan Cong from China, an Argentinian black tea and a black tea from the Guranse company in Nepal.

Tami Wu of Maruwu Co. prepares matcha, photo by Dan Bolton.

Shanghai Division CEO Coco Sun and Tami Wu of the Maruwu Co., presented a matcha whisked on stage for a crowd that clearly appreciated the Japanese style tea with its roots in China. Alexandr Khlynov, CEO of Ivan Tea, was a first-time exhibitor with a selection of teas that include those native grown. Ivan tea (known as Koporsky tea) is a willow-herb rich in vitamins that dates back 700 years.

Anshuman Kanoria, chairman of the Calcutta Tea Traders Association and principal at Balaji Agro International. Balaji operates the Tindharia tea estate boutique bio-organic tea estate in Darjeeling. Kanoria shared some of the hard-to-find tea from this year’s second flush. Darjeeling resembles oolong and the oldest trees there are descended from stock originating in the Wuyi mountains in Fujian Province north of Xiamen. Knowing nods showed tasters recognized the connection.

The group also tried the teas of Argentine grower Roberto Swier, who is president of the Picada Libertad Agricultural Cooperative, a group originally formed to produce tung oil which is no longer in great demand. In 2004 the cooperative planted 500,000 tea seedlings, ultimately seeking to cultivate 1,000 hectares (2,470 acres). Argentina is the 10th largest producer of tea and the world’s 7th largest exporter but demand fell in 2017 compared to previous years and exports reached only 57.4 million kilos. Price fell steeply given the large quantity of tea available globally and Argentina’s exports valued at $40.1 million are down by half.

Swier was visiting China to better understand how to improve tea quality, versus quantity which he said has equaled 40 million kilos at the cooperative in better times.

ITCC organizer Dan Robertson who lives in Naperville, Illinois, and Babette Donaldson formed the international community of tea lovers to share their passion for tea and offer their comments for producers to help improve their offerings.